Saturday, December 15, 2012

March from The Nutcracker and 1 beat rhythms: a practice in form (and foam!)

"O Christmas foam, O Christmas foam, how many are your uses!"

So Target has many Christmas foam packages in the dollar bin this year and I've been enjoying using them in a couple of different ways. (Reminder to self: look into purchasing stock in Target.)

We have been listening to selections of the Nutcracker and the March is a favorite of mine and the students'. It is instantly recognizable to most of the kids and they love moving to this piece.

I'm sure many music teachers are familiar with the body percussion movement that follows the rhythm for the March. I apologize for not sighting my source on this movement activity. I learned it about a million years ago, (well, the late 80s, which seems like a million years ago.) I am reasonably certain it was taught at an Orff workshop I attended while teaching in New Mexico. That's as much as I can narrow it down.

Movement activity for the March from The Nutcracker Suite:

Formation: standing circle

In the A and B sections the movements match the melodic rhythm of the piece.
The C section movements are to the beat.


A section:
stomp, pat-pat-pat   pat  pat  clap clap  snap
stomp, pat-pat-pat   pat  pat  clap clap  snap 
thumb dance for 16 beats
stomp, pat-pat-pat   pat  pat  clap clap  snap
stomp, pat-pat-pat   pat  pat  clap clap  snap
thumb dance for 16 beats

B section:
(similar to A but traveling down the body)
snap, clap-clap-clap  clap clap  pat pat  stomp
thumb dance for  8 beats
snap, clap-clap-clap  clap clap  pat pat  stomp
thumb dance for  8 beats

C section:
"Russian Dance" (fold arms in front, squat and kick out heels)
32 beats

After learning and performing the movement I set out the foam shapes I have labeled with As Bs and Cs. I place the green pile of As, the red Bs and the white snowflake Cs near different walls of the music room. Students may work in pairs or on their own as they collect the section labels and map out the form. Initially I don't play the piece for them as they are collecting the foam labels and working it out. This is an excellent opportunity for students to practice their inner-hearing as they try to work out what order the form is in. I play the piece again as they check their answers. This is a fairly easy piece for them to work out and they enjoy seeing the symmetry of the March.

A completed form

These boys stacked their sections and flipped through them as they listened.

1 Beat Rhythms
My other use for all the foam I've bought is simple rhythmic dictation. 
The 4th graders are in heavy ti tika and tika ti practice and I made this set specifically for them. I know, I know, they should be "syn-co-pa-ing" by now but this group is just not ready at this time. Please don't call the Kodály police, sol-mi....sol-mi....sol-mi.... (whoops, that's their siren!)

Anyway, I wanted to make sure they could either chant the rhythm of each foam or the object name which matches the syllables with the rhythm.

pre-sent = ti ti
tree = ta
gin-ger bread = tika ti
snow = ta
snow-flake = ti ti 
(I actually cheated with snow and snow-flake. I wanted more tas in each set so I drew ti ti on one side of the snowflake and call it "snow-flake" and ta on the other side and call it "snow"! 
I could have also gone with "pre-sent" and "gift")

Each student had a rhythm pack and they decoded four beat patterns.
My basic procedure for rhythmic dictation is I play, (clap or play on a woodblock), they echo, and then they write/decode. Then I play the pattern again and they echo it only in their head and check/refine their answer.
With this rhythmic set I let the students chant the rhythm using either rhythm syllables or object names.

Pre-sent, gin-ger bread, snow,gin-ger bread
ti ti, tika ti, ta, tika ti

Students create their own patterns

Are you wondering, "where is ti tika?" Ah well, we just turned a gingerbread on his head! That was a fun discovery when I played a pattern including ti tika and the students had to figure out how to notate it with what they had. 
Of course, we had to talk about how unnatural it is to say GIN-ger bread, but they adapted immediately.

During another class period students composed their own 4 beat patterns and they walked around the room chanting each pattern accompanied by Leroy Anderson's Sleigh Ride. (If you try this and play that version of Sleigh Ride I highly recommend throwing it in Garage Band, Audacity or the Amazing Slow Downer and slowing down the tempo!)

I learned the hard way with Leroy Anderson's Sleigh Ride!

Have a very happy holiday! (Or holidays, if I am unable to write again before January. I am exhausted.)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy Play-a-long

'Tis the season to bring in the winter holiday music in music class!

I love introducing young students to the wonderful music of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite. The individual pieces are short and familiar to many kids. Several of the pieces provide an excellent opportunity to reinforce concepts we have been focused on in the music room.
Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy is a favorite of many students. 

This short, festive piece is not only a chance for students to play-a-long with the celesta theme, it is also an excellent review of ABA form. (I ask students to improvise a "glittering snowflake dance" with their hands during the B section. Each sforzando could be a sudden gust of wintery wind.)

Additionally, I use it as a reading piece showing "split tis" or single eighth notes.  (A blogpost regarding split tis will be coming soon! Watch this space for ideas regarding teaching split tis after ti-ti is learned. )

Students will be intrigued by that rarely heard, fairy-like, bell-sounding instrument, the celesta. Here is video of someone playing this piece.
(This is the most close-up shot of someone playing the celesta that I could find.)

Every year I ask students if they have seen the Nutcracker ballet live and as the years go on, less and less students have had that experience. I can give them a glimpse of the ballet that they may never see live. (Don't you just love teaching with modern technology?)

Here a youtube video of the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Download a free PDF file of  my play-a-long pages here.